18 April 2010

the holiday is over.... with a thud

Oh dear readers
I am a very tardy correspondent as I've been back home for 6 days and have not posted.  I've been so busy!  Yawn...  that same old excuse.  It's now Friday night and I am sipping American whisky and uploading my holiday snaps to my Picasa web album.  Please don't ask me about this because, the truth is, I'm not exactly sure what is going on with it until the upload is complete.  Possibly I will have a link I can leave you with that will direct you to the photos?  Who would know.  Technology remains a mystery to me.
I am going to drop in a few photos as I blog away here.  This one above is taken JUST as we disembarked from The Cougar One (boat) at Ship Cove (where Capt James Cook landed five times).  This was pre-walk.  We are fresh and happy and our clothes do not yet stink.  
This is Up The Hill, looking down onto Ship Cove, after we had begun the first 500 metres of the Queen Charlotte Track, which was all uphill!  However, as you can imagine, despite all the huffing and puffing and wondering what we'd gotten ourselves into, looking back onto this view allayed all our fears.  This walk was so INCREDIBLY, excruciatingly, ecstatically gorgeous!  The scenery was absolutely spectacular.  Sensational.  Any verb I can provide is not the right one to fully convey the beauty.  
The end of the first day saw us at Furneaux Lodge and I managed to find a vintage old computer, with a slot for a $2 coin, from where I have previously blogged.  Spud and I spent the night in accommodation named, "the Possum Nest", which was very cosy and .... and .... basic, yet comfortable.  I neglected to mention earlier (I think) that in Picton, we stayed at the Villa Backpackers, a very neat and clean backpackers but really, how long has it been since we stayed in a backpackers?!?  For Spud, about 45 years!  
  This bird is a Weka, that seemed very tame and quite keen to pilfer our sandwiches on Day 2 while we sat on a headland overlooking another divine bay, chewing on ham sandwiches and apples.  Our walk was quite short, thankfully, as we were well knackered and in a bit of shock when we crawled into Punga Cove Resort and flopped onto the lawn.  Spud and I had "deluxe" accommodation in a wee bach (pronounced "batch") with a quite severe 15 degree sloping angle, which almost made walking across the tiny lounge room a bit hairy for fear of falling through the windows!  As dawn dawned on Day 3, fear and trepidation struck our hearts as we knew this was a BIG day of 21km walking but by then, we were full of the joy of nature and outdoorsiness (ie we were blistered, sore and a bit grubby).  

 This was the view from the bach, overlooking Punga Cove, so-called because of the many Punga palms growing over the hills. The cross-section of one of these palms is a work of art.  I took a photo, but it's not very good, though it will give you an idea.  Look! 
Day 3 was a tough-ish sort of day as we were starting to develop blisters and various sore bits.  Also, Day 3 was 23kms so we were all quite trepidatious and, in usual style, it started UPHILL again.  However, the magnificent scenery again took our breath away (not any lack of fitness of course) and how could we be miserable when all about us was evidence of The Finger of God upon the planet?  We passed this great little wee-wee stop (a port-a-potty with a hole) that was very well tended, with sprigs of lavender tucked in behind a bolt on the wall, a fluffy lavender hand towel beside the tap and a shop selling all the vitals such as apples, muesli bars, ponchos and drinks - all by that wonderful old-fashioned method of The Honesty Box.  It was truly quite amazing because those walking poles were $30 each, for example.  
This is The Shop above.  And here is a smiling photo of the motley crew ready to take on another day.  (I have to interrupt this epic to feed the cat, a smally furry creature, who is intimidating me aggressively, with tail flicking across my face and paws on the keyboards, in an attempt to be fed...).  We travelled with our friends. The Blennies, and their extended family.  The last day of the walk was one of my favourite, and NOT just because it meant I could put my walking boots away for a few days, but because we walked through some lovely beech forest, with its black tree trunks towering above us and the silvery, soft ferns around their bases creating a tranquil and seemingly restful walk.  All around us were bees and bellbirds attending to their daily business.  And yes, if you MUST know it, the wee caravan at the end of the walk, with its hot coffee and ice-creams was one of the very best things about that day!  Serious foot soaking took place in the icy waters of the Sound as the boys (of all ages) skipped pebbles while frightened ducks paddled by rapidly.  

I could go on raving and raving about Queen Charlotte Sound and the Marlborough Sounds in general but I'd best move on with the New Zealand travel saga.  Leaving the top end of the South Island, we drove down to Christchurch, where we spent two nights recovering in a nice hotel where we met the NSW Swifts netball team who were in town playing the locals.  Amazingly and incredibly, the next morning's newspaper covered their win in a half page story on the back page, with photos!  Another reason to LOVE New Zealand!  They have some respect for womens' sport and appreciate there is more to sport than league or cricket.  Hooray!  From Christchurch, we drove down the east coast towards Queenstown.  We'd heard that the west coast was more scenic but on this trip, it just wasn't working for us.  We we will definitely do it that way next time though.  It's about a five hour plus drive, which I'd not anticipated either.  Queenstown was .... not what I'd expected.  It was so developed!  It reminded me of Cairns, but rather than the Reef, we've got the alps.  So, initially we were both a little disappointed as we checked into our excellent BandB, Brown's Boutique Hotel. Gillian and Donald were great hosts and cooked sensational breakfasts.  From here, we were easily able to walk into town and I have to say that, after about 2 hours, we loved Queenstown just as much as everything else!  It was ... wait for it..... So Pretty!!! 

 The mountains behind are called The Remarkables and in the colder months are covered in snow.  The Botanic Gardens were beautiful as the leaves were turning and the colours of rust, gold, crimson and lush green were spectacular to see as, living in the tropics, we NEVER see anything like that.  We saw alot more of this colourful foliage in Arrowtown, a cute little gold-mining town that we both adored, which is where we saw this church, framed by two HUGE sequoiadendron giganteum (the Wellingtonia) planted in about 1870.  
Arrowtown was absolutely great and now I am dreaming of living there....  On the way to Arrowtown, Spud made a sudden and unexpected left hand turn, into the driveway of the Shotover jetboat which threw me into a spin, being a person who likes to psychologically prepare myself for scary events, hence my look of anxiety pre-boarding.  Like the wet-weather gear?
    It was SO MUCH FUN!!!!  Sadly, we could not stay in or around Queenstown for ever and headed off for A Very, Very, Very Long Drive to see Mildford Sound.  It took us about 4.5 hours to drive there from Queenstown, although about two hours of that was incredibly, mind-blowingingly scenic and we did stop to take quite a lot of photos such as these...
We have to say that actually arriving at Milford Sound was a tiny, tiny bit disappointing (!!) because of the man-made chaos we found there.  It is a World Heritage Listed area, yet we found it the most disappointing place of our whole holiday.  NOT because of the nature, but because of the revolting cafe (and bar??!!??) with curled up sandwiches and punk music, the roaring generator behind the cafe, the blocked toilets, the churning helicopters and light 'planes overhead, the tooting boat horns and the groaning coaches filled with other tourists.  It was MAYHEM!!  I am sure there are more sympathetic ways of providing the services, don't you imagine?  It was completely unsympathetic.  We did not have time left to do a boat trip on the Sound, which is a shame because I think we would have gotten a very different perspective.  Next time....  Thankfully, that night we stayed at a really lovely BandB in Te Anau called Dunluce, and did not have to drive all the way back to Queenstown.  The next morning it was off to Dunedin, along the coastal scenic route where we stopped in to see a jurassic-era fossilised forest at Curio Bay.  The coastline was divine (no kidding) and the countryside was all rolling green hills and thousands of fluffy sheep grazing, interspersed with paddocks of alpaca and deer.  We eventually found our way to our last stop, Larnach Castle, on the Otago Peninsula, about 20 minutes drive from central Dunedin. It was a fab place to stay, not only because it was a castle, but because it had magnificent gardens and an incredible view!! 
This was our bed....  We were watching a little film about the history of the Castle and we saw our bed - with a horse attached to it!!  We loved Dunedin too, though I think the sunny, warm weather made a big difference.  Apparently, it can be pretty chilly and wet and, when you think there is nothing between you and Antarctica, I imagine it gets pretty windy and miserable during a storm, as was evident by the shape of trees, growing bent over.  We visited the Royal Albatross Rookery, which was really interesting and made me go "albatross-mad".  Our Maori guide even had ta moko, which you do not often see these days.  Anyway, it was a tremendous way to finish off a spectacular, sensational, amazing, incredible holiday. I am already planning another trip to NZ and I don't need a reason! 
 The view from our room...

No terrorist paranoia in Dunedin, as evidenced by this brass sign.  Just a sleepy, friendly, laid-back town.
I've got to go!  I've been sitting here at this computer for about two hours and now it's time to help Spud prepare dinner.  Oooh, I almost forgot to mention Spud being electrocuted by a fence when he put both hands on the wire to peer in and see what they were growing.  Oooo dear!  It was quite funny (for me) at the time but the poor sausage had sore arms for about three hours afterwards.  Cheerio.  I am trying to work out how to say "goodbye" in Maori...
I forgot to mention the food in New Zealand!  I will have to come back and rave about that later.  So delicious!  So fresh!  This picture above is of a very popular slice that we found throughout the South Island - biscuit base with chewy coconut and choc bits and sultanas on top.  My friend, the Bakewell Tart, has a recipe that makes something very similar...  I will post it on my other blog, "A Slice of Life", which is even more slack than this one, but which, when functioning effectively, has slice recipes galore.  I will work on THAT blog later this week.  

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